At the moment, it seems all my cycling friends are going off on epic cycle tours around the British Isles. PJ is live blogging from his solo tour from around the abandoned medieval hamlets of Leicestershire and the like.
“Once you get out of the towns and cities, weaving a stitched line along the OS map, it’s quite startling how English everything becomes. The rural landscape, imaginative, physical, demographic and imaginative, is very much middle England, punctuated by the flag of St George, villages in thrall to a vision of the past that is at once bucolic, refreshing, but clearly at odds with the more modern subjectivity of the city dweller.”
When I went racing around England, I found a similar observation, in places such as Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Leicestershire – you came across all these villages which were quintessentially English in a way you felt only existed in 1950s Mrs Marple films. For me, cycling around the countryside was the best education there was more to England than Bradford and the inside of Oxford pubs.
However, no matter how impressive consecutive days of 91 miles may sound, there’s always someone with a bigger ride. My team-mate Vilas Silverton writes an entertaining account of a 400km ride in the middle of March. – An early season 400km All night Audax rides in freezing winter seem to attract a particular breed of rider. A rider who revels in sleeping in bus shelters with the height of luxury being popping into a petrol station to ‘borrow’ a few plastic bags to try and keep warm. Silverton sets the scene for a frosty night ride.
“After a few hours of riding, I realised I was quite cold. Uncharacteristically, I was glad of the climbs as they helped maintain body heat. Descending into valleys was a whole different experience. The damp cold wind cut right through me sucking any hard earned warmth from my core. Feet were the first things to go, followed about 45 minutes later by fingers. Sanity was close behind.”
It gets better as the night goes on:
“I had a final attempt at sleep, after my ‘normal’ tiredness increased to what I felt was dangerous. I knew I was struggling, but after wobbling off my bike into deserted pub car park and desperately looking into my bag for sugared items I realized I had better do something more constructive than putting my head in my hands. Down the road I found a 5 star Audax hotel aka a Welsh Bus stop.”
It’s the kind of cycling report which both repels and attracts at the same time. It makes racing up a hill for three minutes seem rather feeble in comparison. These days for me, 30 miles to Brill and back is quite a long way; for the Audaxers of this world, it is a mere momentary warm-up before the legs are properly loosened.
To these stories of suffering, mirth and daring do – my touring anecdotes are poor in comparison. The best I can do is a few days in the Republic of Ireland in 2003, where the height of excitement was getting stopped by some cows in the middle of the road. I did enjoy the climbs very much, though my friends’ idea of what constituted a good cycle tour seemed to rapidly diverge. I found myself going on 20-mile detours to arrive at the destination the same time as cyclists who seemed unconcerned with the mirky business of making too much effort, especially when the road went up.
Tips for cycle touring
Researching a photo of my Irish tour, I came across an old article I wrote in 2008 on my old blog. It’s of limited value but I’ll repost it here.
Get A Good local Map
I was using a small scale, free tourist map. The problem was I went down roads, not marked on the map. The road would suddenly come to an end at a farmers gate. It is really hard to navigate unless you have a proper map.
Don’t rely on Road Signs
I really love Ireland, but, forgive me their road signs are often inadequate. Places would be signposted but you would later come to junctions where there are no signposts, and you have to guess. Also, when they say Derry 10km, it could mean anything from 8-13Km.
Don’t Rely on Others to Organise
Because I was riding with a group, I made less preparation than I would if I was riding on my own. I wish I carried more food and a proper map. Always be prepared for getting lost.
You will Never Regret Carrying too much food.
Many non-cyclists who cycle a long way will underestimate how much food you need to eat. People are used to 3 meals a day and many don’t realise that when cycling you need to be eating throughout the day. I saw one or two get the hunger knock. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad; but it could have been much worse.
Carry enough dry clothes
One day it rained, waterproofs don’t stop all your clothes getting wet. Make sure, you have enough spare clothes; it’s difficult to dry clothes on tour.
Stick To Roads
Be wary about taking short cuts across mountains on ‘walking paths’. My friends were keen to take a short cut on a path across a mountain. I refused because I knew walking with cleats was difficult. I took a 30km detour on roads and arrived in an hour. They took 4 hours to walk over a muddy mountain road, carrying their bikes on their backs. I didn’t gloat at all when they returned to the hostel as the light was fading at 10pm…..
Ask Locals gives reassurance.
Because I didn’t have a proper map and the road signs were limited, I was worried about cycling 10km the wrong way. So I often asked a local, just to check; this gave a reassurance so I could enjoy the ride rather than worrying about getting lost.
Ride your Bike before.
I took my winter training bike because I didn’t want to risk my summer bike. It is important to ride the bike before taking it on tour. This helps to iron out any problems at home, near a bike shop rather than in a remote area with less assistance. If tyres are on the verge of needing a change, change them before you leave, to reduce the risk of punctures.
A Support Vehicle is Great
I was riding with 12 others, mostly inexperienced cyclists. Having a support van and support car was really helpful. It meant if the cycling got too much, people could take a rest in the car. It’s also useful for carrying provisions e.t.c. If you are experienced cyclists, you may not need a support van but it definitely helped our tour.
Don’t Overstretch Yourself
It is important to cycle a reasonable distance. One day, we cycled 100km, which is about the limit for someone who hasn’t done any cycling before. At the same time, I took some detours to make it 140km.